In a previous post, we defined patience as “waiting in the midst of suffering.” That may work for humans when we’re commanded to show patience to one another, but does it work for God? We know God is patient; does this definition fit for Him?
What evidence do we see of God’s patience in the Scriptures? In 1 Peter 3:20, we read of God’s patience waiting in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. We also read of God’s patience in Romans 2:4 (this verse is emphasized in the quote below).
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:1–5, ESV)
In this passage the patience of God only makes sense with His judgment in view (see verse 5). God’s judgment is righteous in punishing sin, and this is not just because a law is being broken. Our sin is not against a law, it is against God. It is an offense to Him. Thus, the patience of God here is connected to His suffering, if we think of His holy, righteous character suffering from the offense given by sin.
A quick note: I do not in any way mean to paint God as cowering, weak, or undone by our sin. But I do not think we can avoid the fact that our sin is offensive to God and that it is personal, not simply legal, to Him.
Patience as an attribute of God is not mentioned by name much in the New Testament beyond the passages surveyed above. What about in the Old Testament? There we find even fewer explicit references to God’s patience. However, we are told much about this aspect of God’s character by the way He reveals His name to His people.
Take, for example, Exodus 34:5–7 where God declares His name.
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5–7, ESV)
In fact, the part of God’s name we read in the ESV as “slow to anger” is written in the Septuagint with a Greek word translated “patiently.” God’s patience is so intrinsic to His character that He claims it as part of His name! That is incredible!
Let’s consider one more passage regarding God’s patience.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:8–10, ESV)
We see that God’s patience is tied to His willingness not only to wait, but to turn his anger aside for a time. The patience of God the Father also opens the door for His mercy—see verse 10 above. Because God is just as well as merciful, we also see that the work of Jesus Christ is in view in this Psalm. In our next installment of this series, we will turn our attention to Jesus and the way He demonstrated patience.
Have you experienced the patience of God? Have you seen it in the Scriptures in places other than what I’ve listed above? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!